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Authors: Wilbur Smith

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‘There!’ he exclaimed a moment later. ‘She is altering course, sheering away from us. The Dutchman is a cautious fellow.’

‘Satan’s teeth! Just sniff her!’ Ned whispered, almost to himself, as a trace of spices scented the air. ‘Sweet as a virgin, and twice as beautiful.’

‘It’s the richest smell you’ll ever have in your nostrils.’ Sir Francis spoke loudly enough for the men on the deck below to hear him. ‘There lies fifty pounds a
head in prize money if you have the notion to fight for it.’ Fifty pounds was ten years of an English workman’s wages, and the men stirred and growled like hunting hounds on the
leash.

Sir Francis went forward to the poop rail and lifted his chin to call softly up to the men in the rigging, ‘Make believe that those cheese-heads over there are your brothers. Give them a
cheer and a brave welcome.’

The men aloft howled with glee, and waved their bonnets at the tall ship as the
Lady Edwina
edged in under her stern.

K
atinka van de Velde sat up and frowned at Zelda, her old nurse. ‘Why have you woken me so early?’ she demanded petulantly, and
tossed the tumble of golden curls back from her face. Even so freshly aroused from sleep, it was rosy and angelic. Her eyes were of a startling violet colour, like the lustrous wings of a tropical
butterfly.

‘There is another ship near us. Another Company ship. The first we have seen in all these terrible stormy weeks. I had begun to think there was not another Christian soul left in all the
world,’ Zelda whined. ‘You are always complaining of boredom. It might divert you for a while.’

Zelda was pale and wan. Her cheeks, once fat, smooth and greased with good living, were sunken. Her great belly was gone, and hung in folds of loose skin almost to her knees. Katinka could see
it through the thin stuff of her nightgown.

She has puked away all her fat and half her flesh, Katinka thought, with a twinge of disgust. Zelda had been prostrated by the cyclones that had assailed the
Standvastigheid
and battered
her mercilessly ever since they had left the Trincomalee coast.

Katinka threw back the satin bedclothes and swung her long legs over the edge of the gilded bunk. This cabin had been especially furnished and redecorated to accommodate her, a daughter of one
of the omnipotent
Zeventien
, the seventeen directors of the Company. The décor was all gilt and velvet, silken cushions and silver vessels. A portrait of Katinka by the fashionable
Amsterdam artist Pieter de Hoogh hung on the bulkhead opposite her bed, a wedding present from her doting father. The artist had captured her lascivious turn of head. He must have scoured his paint
pots to reproduce so faithfully the wondrous colour of her eyes – and their expression, which was at once both innocent and corrupt.

‘Do not wake my husband,’ she cautioned the old woman as she flung a gold-brocade wrap over her shoulders and tied the jewelled belt around her hourglass waist. Zelda’s eyelid
drooped in conspiratorial agreement. At Katinka’s insistence the Governor slept in the smaller, less grand cabin beyond the door that was locked from her side. Her excuse was that he snored
abominably, and that she was indisposed by the
mal-de-mer
. In truth, caged in her quarters all these weeks, she was restless and bored, bursting with youthful energy and aflame with desires
that the fat old man could never extinguish.

She took Zelda’s hand and stepped out onto the narrow stern gallery. This was a private balcony, ornately carved with cherubs and angels, looking out over the ship’s wake and hidden
from the vulgar eyes of the crew.

It was a morning dazzling with sunlit magic, and as she filled her lungs with the salt tang of the sea she felt every nerve and muscle of her body quiver with the impetus of life. The wind
kicked creamy feathers from the tops of the long blue swells, and played with her golden curls. It ruffled the silk over her breasts and belly with the caress of a lover’s fingers. She
stretched and arched her back sensuously like a sleek, golden cat.

Then she saw the other ship. It was much smaller than the galleon but with pleasing lines. The pretty flags and pennants that streamed from her masts contrasted with the pile of her white sails.
She was close enough for Katinka to make out the figures of the few men that manned her rigging. They were waving a greeting, and she could see that some were young and clad only in short
petticoats.

She leaned over the rail and stared across. Her husband had commanded that the crew of the galleon observe a strict dress code while she was aboard, so the figures on this strange ship
fascinated her. She folded her arms over her bosom and squeezed her breasts together, feeling her nipples harden and engorge. She wanted a man. She burned for a man, any man, just as long as he was
young and hard and raging for her. A man like those she had known in Amsterdam before her father had discovered her taste for strong game and sent her out to the Indies, to a safe old husband who
had a high position in the Company and even higher prospects. His choice had been Petrus Jacobus van de Velde who, now that he was married to Katinka, was assured of the next vacancy on the
Company’s board, where he would join the pantheon of the
Zeventien
.

‘Come inside,
Lieveling
.’ Zelda tugged at her sleeve. ‘Those ruffians over there are staring at you.’

Katinka shrugged off Zelda’s hand, but it was true. They had recognized her as a female. Even at this distance their excitement was almost palpable. Their antics had become frenzied and
one strapping figure in the bows took a double handful of his own crotch and thrust his hips towards her in a rhythmic and obscene gesture.

‘Revolting! Come inside!’ Zelda insisted. ‘The Governor will be furious if he sees what that animal is doing.’

‘He should be furious that he cannot perform as nimbly,’ Katinka replied angelically. She pressed her thighs tightly together the better to savour the sudden moist warmth at their
juncture. The caravel was much closer now, and she could see that what the seaman was offering her was bulky enough to overflow his cupped hands. The tip of her pink tongue dabbed at her pouting
lips.

‘Please, mistress.’

‘In a while,’ Katinka demurred. ‘You were right, Zelda. This does amuse me.’ She raised one white hand and waved back at the other ship. Instantly the men redoubled their
efforts to hold her attention.

‘This is so undignified,’ Zelda moaned.

‘But it’s fun. We’ll never see those creatures again, and being always dignified is so dull.’ She leaned further out over the rail and let the front of her gown bulge
open.

At that moment there was a heavy pounding on the door to her husband’s cabin. Without further urging Katinka fled from the gallery, rushed to her bunk and threw herself upon it. She pulled
the satin bedclothes up to her chin, before she nodded at Zelda, who lifted the cross bar and dropped into an ungainly curtsy as the Governor burst in. He ignored her and, belting his robe around
his protruding belly, waddled to the bunk where Katinka lay. Without his wig his head was covered by sparse silver bristles.

‘My dear, are you well enough to rise? The captain has sent a message. He wishes us to dress and stand to. There is a strange vessel in the offing, and it is behaving
suspiciously.’

Katinka stifled a smile as she thought of the suspicious behaviour of the strange seamen. Instead she made a brave but pitiful face. ‘My head is bursting, and my stomach—’

‘My poor darling.’ Petrus van de Velde, Governor-elect of the Cape of Good Hope, bent over her. Even on this cool morning his jowls were basted with sweat, and he reeked of last
evening’s dinner, Javanese curried fish, garlic and sour rum.

This time her stomach truly churned, but Katinka offered her cheek dutifully. ‘I may have the strength to rise,’ she whispered, ‘if the captain orders it.’

Zelda rushed to the bedside and helped her sit up, and then lifted her to her feet, and with an arm around her waist, led her to the small Chinese screen in the corner of the cabin. Seated on
the bench opposite, her husband was afforded only vague glimpses of shining white skin from behind the painted silk panels, even though he craned his head to see more.

‘How much longer must this terrible journey last?’ Katinka complained.

‘The captain assures me that, with this wind holding fair, we should drop anchor in Table Bay within ten days.’

‘The Lord give me strength to survive that long.’

‘He has invited us to dine today with him and his officers,’ replied the Governor. ‘It is a pity, but I will send a message that you are indisposed.’

Katinka’s head and shoulders popped up over the screen. ‘You will do no such thing!’ she snapped. Her breasts, round and white and smooth, quivered with agitation.

One of the officers interested her more than a little. He was Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, who, like her own husband, was
en route
to take up an appointment at the Cape of Good Hope. He
had been appointed military commander of the settlement of which Petrus van de Velde would be Governor. He wore pointed moustaches and a fashionable van Dyck beard, and bowed to her most graciously
each time she went on deck. His legs were well turned, and his dark eyes were eagle bright and gave her goose pimples when he looked at her. She read in them more than just respect for her
position, and he had responded most gratifyingly to the sly appraisal she had given him from under her long eyelashes.

When they reached the Cape, he would be her husband’s subordinate. Hers also to command – and she was sure that he could relieve the monotony of exile in the forsaken settlement at
the end of the world that was to be her home for the next three years.

‘I mean,’ she changed her tone swiftly, ‘it would be churlish of us to decline the captain’s hospitality, would it not?’

‘But your health is more important,’ he protested.

‘I will find the strength.’ Zelda slipped petticoats over her head, one after another, five in all, each fluttering with ribbons.

Katinka came from behind the screen and raised her arms. Zelda lowered the blue silk dress over them and drew it down over the petticoats. Then she knelt and carefully tucked up the skirts on
one side to reveal the petticoats beneath, and the slim ankles clad in white silk stockings. It was the very latest fashion. The Governor watched her, entranced. If only the other parts of your
body were as big and busy as your eyeballs, Katinka thought derisively, as she turned to the long mirror and pirouetted before it.

Then she screamed wildly and clutched her bosom as, from the deck directly above them, there came the sudden deafening roar of gunfire. The Governor screamed as shrilly and flung himself from
the bench onto the Oriental carpets that covered the deck.


D
e Standvastigheid
!’ Through the lens of the telescope Sir Francis Courtney read the galleon’s name off her high gilded
transom. ‘
The Resolution
.’ He lowered the glass and grunted, ‘A name which we will soon put to the test!’

As he spoke a long bright plume of smoke spurted from the ship’s upper deck, and a few seconds later the boom of the cannon carried across the wind. Half a cable’s length ahead of
their bows, the heavy ball plunged into the sea, making a tall white fountain. They could hear drums beating urgently in the other ship, and the gunports in her lower decks swung open. Long barrels
prodded out.

‘I marvel that he waited so long to give us a warning shot,’ Sir Francis drawled. He closed the telescope, and looked up at the sails. ‘Put up your helm, Master Ned, and lay us
under his stern.’ The display of false colours had won them enough time to duck in under the menace of the galleon’s crushing broadside.

Sir Francis turned to the carpenter, who stood ready at the stern rail with a boarding axe in his hands. ‘Cut her loose!’ he ordered.

The man raised the axe above his head and swung it down. With a crunch the blade sliced into the timber of the stern rail, the drogue line parted with a whiplash crack and, free of her
restraint, the
Lady Edwina
bounded forward, then heeled as Ned put up the helm.

Sir Francis’s manservant, Oliver, came running with the red-quartered cloak and plumed cavalier hat. Sir Francis donned them swiftly and bellowed at the masthead, ‘Down with the
colours of the Republic and let’s see those of England!’ The crew cheered wildly as the Union flag streamed out on the wind.

They came boiling up from below decks, like ants from a broken nest, and lined the bulwarks, roaring defiance at the huge vessel that towered over them. The Dutchman’s decks and rigging
swarmed with frantic activity.

The cannon in the galleon’s ports were training around, but few could cover the caravel as she came flying down on the wind, screened by the Dutchman’s own high counter.

A ragged broadside thundered out across the narrowing gap but most of the shot fell wide by hundreds of yards or howled harmlessly overhead. Hal ducked as the blast of a passing shot lifted the
cap from his head and sent it sailing away on the wind. A neat round hole had appeared miraculously in the sail six feet above him. He flicked his long hair out of his face, and peered down at the
galleon.

The small company of Dutch officers on the quarterdeck were in disarray. Some were in shirtsleeves, and one was stuffing his night-shirt into his breeches as he came up the companion-ladder.

One officer caught his eye in the throng: a tall man in a steel helmet with a van Dyck beard was rallying a company of musketeers on the foredeck. He wore the gold-embroidered sash of a colonel
over his shoulder, and from the way he gave his orders and the alacrity with which his men responded seemed a man to watch, one who might prove a dangerous foe.

Now at his bidding the men ran aft, each carrying a murderer, one of the small guns especially used for repelling boarders. There were slots in the galleon’s stern rail into which the iron
pin of the murderer would fit, allowing the deadly little weapon to be traversed and aimed at the decks of an enemy ship as it came alongside. When they had boarded the
Heerlycke Nacht
Hal
had seen the execution the murderer could wreak at close range. It was more of a threat than the rest of the galleon’s battery.

BOOK: Birds of Prey
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